Even the Best Client-Agency Relationships Need Evaluations

The Top Reasons Brands Don't Review Agency Relationships and Why They Should

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Even in an industry that knows the importance of clear communication and goals, the idea of conducting an agency performance evaluation can be met with a "Why do we need to do this?" response. Clients are busy and if they have a healthy relationship with their agency, a biannual or annual assessment is the last "to do" on their list. Or, not on their list at all.

So I thought I'd share the top two reasons we hear marketers cite when they say they don't believe in evaluating their agency relationships, along with a perspective on why every brand should consider this often underutilized, undervalued and misunderstood practice.

1. We make a point of communicating our issues to the agency as they happen.

There is a line in "When Harry Met Sally" (bear with me) that is something to the effect of, "Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor, but they couldn't possibly all have good taste..." My point is, we all think we're communicating effectively, but we couldn't possibly all be communicating effectively.

Even if you're sitting down with your agency's CEO on a regular basis, one-off conversations do not yield concrete next steps or agreements across your entire piece of business. They don't look at your relationship holistically. And in the throes of a million deadlines and deliverables, the issues you thought you'd addressed can be forgotten. Or when timing gets the best of us, the uncomfortable conversations never happen. Or happen when it's too late.

An agency performance evaluation provides a specific forum to address bigger relationship concerns, especially the ones that weren't dealt with in the moment. Typically conducted by either procurement or an external consultant, a biannual or annual assessment isn't about the performance of work -- for example, how much traffic an ad drove to the site. It's not about blame or simply pointing out negatives. It's about assessing the relationship and processes, and determining what needs to be fixed and who's going to fix it. And this type of evaluation can be tailored to all agency types -- from AOR to multicultural to media.

2. If we think the agency needs a performance evaluation, maybe what we're really saying is we need a new agency.

An agency performance evaluation is not a tool for irreparably damaged, broken client-agency relationships. It should never be a precursor to a review, nor should it be an opportunity to put an agency "on notice." An annual assessment enables clients and agencies to get out in front of significant relationship issues before they become unresolvable, for instance:

"The agency isn't getting our business."

"They're not taking on enough of a strategic leadership role."

"There's too much turnover. We don't know our team."

"We don't feel like we're getting fresh creative ideas anymore."

Believe it or not, these are real examples of concerns resolved in the context of evaluations. The performance-evaluation process is like an employee review. Even if the employee is doing great, an annual, formal sit-down provides clarity around goals, expectations and what's working (or not). An agency performance evaluation is no different. In fact, also reminiscent of an employee review, clients solicit 360-degree feedback -- asking agencies to provide their POV so that the relationship is vetted from both sides.

Client-agency partnerships are complex. Demands are always changing. Whether your relationship is thriving and you want to keep it that way, or you're just starting to identify areas of improvement, consider implementing agency performance evaluations. Your marketing relationships and investments will be better for it.

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